By Mehmet Ozturk and Faruk Tokat
ANKARA (AA) - Turkey's activities in Africa are wholeheartedly welcomed by the African authorities and African people as they are purely humanitarian and developmental works, deputy head of Turkey’s Presidency of Religious Affairs (Diyanet) said on Friday.
“Turkey does not have any imperial history in Africa. Nor today does not have any hidden agenda,” Selim Argun told Anadolu Agency.
In an exclusive interview with Anadolu Agency in the capital Ankara, Argun talked about Diyanet’s African Muslim Religious Leaders summits, its activities in Africa and the main motives behind Turkey’s Africa initiatives.
Argun stressed that either on a governmental level or on an NGO level, when Turkey operates in African continent, its representatives are wholeheartedly welcomed by the local people, especially on a grass root level.
Turkey’s Presidency of Religious Affairs will organize the third African Muslim Religious Leaders summit in Istanbul between Oct.19- 22, 2019, Argun said.
“I do sincerely hope that our third summit will be as successful as the previous two summits,” he added.
Underlining that the year 2005 was declared by the Turkish government as the year of Africa, Argun said that the following year in 2006, Diyanet, had organized the first African Muslim Religious Leaders summit in Istanbul under the auspices of the former Prime Minister of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
“This summit was first of its kind, as we had invited all the Muslim religious leaders from different countries across the continent,” Argun highlighted.
Argun said that during intensive workshops and brainstorming, Diyanet representatives discussed and analyzed the challenges that Turkey shares with African Muslims and how can Turkey can contribute in overcoming these problems.
Underlining that the outcome was “amazing”, Argun said that Diyanet had decided to form many groups to follow up the decisions that were taken in that first summit.
After five years, Diyanet had organized the second African Muslim Religious Leaders summit in Istanbul again under the auspices of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Argun added.
“May Allah give us guidance and strength to convey the true and correct message of Islam in Africa and other parts of the world,” Argun said.
Underlining that hermeneutic is a big problem today which Muslims face, Argun said many people do read some sacred texts and misinterpret them.
“Based on this misinterpretation, misconceptions, we see that number of terrorist organizations, the so called Islamic terrorist organizations, are mushrooming in many countries, including Africa,” Argun stressed.
He expressed hope that Turkey’s activities will contribute to the “better understanding and representation of Islam”.
- Turkey’s activities in Africa
As a request from the local community, Diyanet constructs number of mosque complexes in different countries including Djibouti, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Mali, and Chad, Argun stressed.
“In addition to that, we bring students from Africa to our imam hatip schools, which is unique to Turkey, and to Faculties of Theology,” Argun said.
Argun stressed that Diyanet also provides some publications for the Muslim local communities, translates the Quran professionally, prints them out here and also dispatches to those countries.
“In addition to the Quran translations, we also do translate some of the canonical works of the Islamic jurisprudence and other piece of Islamic Studies,” he added.
Argun underlined that construction is an important part and parcel of Diyanet’s activities in Africa as well as publication, bringing students and humanitarian work.
“Through the Diyanet Vakfi [Diyanet Foundation], the NGO of the Diyanet, and the other Muslim and Turkish local NGOs, we try to contribute to some of the developmental projects of African countries,” he added.
Q: How is the cooperation of African countries about your activities?
Selim Argun: In actual fact, in terms of cooperation and collaboration, we are not facing any big problems and challenges and we do not see any obstacles because our activities cannot be classified as a missionary activity.
What we are doing is purely humanitarian work and developmental work. That's why perhaps our representatives and our activities are wholeheartedly welcomed by the African authorities and African people.
If you compare us with the some of the European NGOs and European development agencies, I can easily state that the European NGOs are seen with some suspicions in the field, especially on the grass root level because the local people, local Muslims do question their true intentions.
Sometimes a European NGO establishes a field hospital with the pretext of helping local people. But in actual fact, what we realized that after a certain period, they were planning to invade that country in particular, and that's why they establish the hospital; in order to facilitate or in order to serve the soldiers.
But when it comes to our humanitarian activities, developmental activities, we see the full cooperation from our African countries both on a governmental level and on a grass root level from the lay people.
Q: Do you plan to organize this type of summit in any African country?
Selim Argun: Well, this is the third summit, in actual fact, and we have been organizing this in Turkey, because when we bring them to Turkey, this helps us to promote Turkish culture, Turkish history, Turkish architecture, Turkish way of understanding Islam.
And we try to not only have them in Istanbul but we try to take them to other Anatolian cities.
For instance, this time, we have been planning on the last day of our summit, to take all the participants to Karabuk for instance. Because in Karabuk, there are more than 8,000 African students.
So upon the request of the governor of Karabuk and many MPs in the Turkish parliament, we have decided to take all the Africans Muslim religious leaders to Karabuk and let them meet with the African students there.
If there is a request from the African side, by all means we are ready to organize one summit InshAllah in the near future in Africa.
Q: This is a continental summit. Seems like you have another continental summits also. Do you have?
Selim Argun: Absolutely. Actually the third African Muslim Religious summit is a chain of number of other international summits that we organized so far.
Turkey is a founding member of Euroasian Islamic Council and maybe the following year, we are going to organize the 11th Eurasian Islamic summit inshallah.
And then also we organize Asian Pacific Muslim leaders summit, and also Latin American Muslims summit.
Also we organize the world Muslim Minorities summit in Istanbul.
And also recently we organized the European Muslim forum and the European Muslim religious leaders summit.
So, yes, the Presidency of Religious Affairs is very much internationalized. In conjunction with the internationalization of the Turkish foreign policy, of course, we in our field, try to organize and try to connect with the Muslim religious institutions in those areas whether they are Asia Pacific countries, Latin American countries Asian regions, or African regions.
These are important components of our religious understanding.